THE ST OMER CHRONICLE, the focus of this study, is an anonymous contemporary narrative of around 21,000 words that deals almost exclusively with the conduct of the Hundred Years’ War in the period 1342–47. During these five years, the English enjoyed an astounding degree of military success. Although France had triple the population and wealth of England, a high martial reputation, and the aid of Scotland, Edward III and his lieutenants were victorious in every theater. In the southwest of France, Henry of Lancaster crushed two French field armies, at Bergerac and Auberoche; captured dozens of magnates whose ransoms, collectively, far exceeded the peacetime annual revenues of the English crown; seized control of 136 castles and towns, including major centers like La Réole, Bergerac, and Poitiers, strategically crucial places like Aiguillon, and exceptionally strong fortresses like Lusignan; and won his reputation as “one of the best warriors in the world.” In Brittany, Edward III pushed the zone of English control, which at one point hardly extended past the walls of Quimperlé, as far east as the vicinity of Vannes. His lieutenant Sir Thomas Dagworth, with small forces at his disposal, was nonetheless able to more than hold his own against a major French counter- thrust. First, he won a small engagement at Restellou near Kergadoret that Sir Thomas Gray considered the most marvelous victory of the Breton Wars. Then he triumphed in a much more significant battle at La Roche Derrien, where the pro-Valois claimant to the duchy, Charles of Blois, was captured. On the Scottish front, the English thoroughly defeated a royal army led by David II, and brought the wounded king of Scots himself to the Tower of London as a prisoner. Meanwhile Edward III ravaged Normandy from the Cotentin to the Seine, sacked the large city of Caen and dozens of smaller towns, burned the royal palace of Montjoye outside Paris, and won the great battle of Crécy. Then, after keeping an army on French soil for over a year, he captured the key strategic port of Calais, so that, as Froissart put it, thereafter the English considered that “the keys to the kingdom of France hung at their belt.”
The St Omer Chronicle is an important source for nearly all of these major operations – but then, so are several other chronicles.